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Bangkok may be best known to out-of-towners as a party place, but while its reputation is deserved, it offers so much more than after-hours fun. A city of over 10 million, Bangkok is spread across 50 districts, each with its own unique personality. From hipster havens to well-trodden fixtures on the tourist trail, we take you through seven Bangkok neighbourhoods and the best things to see and do in them.
Here be hipsters
Ekkamai and Thonglor are now well-established Bangkok neighbourhoods, and while it’s no longer an under-the-radar hangout, the hip district offers a worthy alternative to city-centre experiences. Hipster credentials are maintained with shops like (un) Fashion Vintage Collection, a pre-loved clothing and accessories shop and cafe; and The Commons, a collective of local artisans, producers and restaurateurs.
The outdoor food court at W District is perfect for a casual alfresco evening enjoying various international flavours, or book a table at casual dining concept Err (from the team behind one-Michelin-star Bo.Lan) for rustic Thai cuisine. Follow up with an indulgent night cap at Nowhere BKK or Octave, a rooftop bar atop the Bangkok Marriott Hotel Sukhumvit. The hotel’s five-star facilities, well-appointed rooms and marble-clad bathrooms are the perfect luxe surroundings for a well-deserved night’s sleep.
Infamous digs and inspiring design
Among Bangkok neighbourhoods, Banglamphu is home to Bangkok’s most infamous stretch of tarmac – the Khao San Road. The 400-metre road is a backpacker haven lined with hostels on both sides, with an open-air night market and thriving nightlife after dark. For an unconventional evening, stop in at retro watering hole Hippie de Bar or Old Town speakeasy Ku Bar for a drink. Just a short walk away is one of Thailand’s most sacred and beautiful sites, the Grand Palace. The golden spires and Ratanakosin-era architecture are worth the visit.
Dine at Jay Fai, where the septuagenarian cook’s trademark goggles are as famous as the crab omelettes (widely hailed the city’s best and worth of her Michelin star); otherwise contemporary riverfront pub Sheepshank does a strong menu of modern American fare. If a hostel isn’t your idea of comfort, book into Bangkok Publishing Residence: part museum, part boutique hotel converted from a 1960s shophouse that was once home to one of Bangkok’s notable publishing families.
The riverside district reborn
The site of a recent riverside renaissance, Khlong San’s shaken off its somewhat staid reputation due to its makeover – thanks in no small part to the opening of megamall ICONSIAM. The district is now home to a burgeoning arts community, from small-scale galleries like Speedy Grandma and Bridge Art Space to multi-purpose complexes like The Jam Factory, filled with bars, restaurants and concept shops.
One of those fine restaurants is Never Ending Summer, which offers plates of traditional Thai cuisine inspired by owner-architect Duangrit Bunnag’s family recipes. Visit craft beer bar Save Our Souls and choose from a wide selection of bottled beverages as well as those on tap, or scale new heights at Three Sixty Rooftop Bar, atop the Millennium Hilton Bangkok.
The nightlife hub of Khlong Toei attracts a diverse crowd. The Bangkok neighbourhood is home to the Soi Cowboy red-light district, but also borders the affluent Phrom Phong and Asok areas, with a smattering of five-star hotels along Sukhumvit 24 (Sofitel Bangkok Sukhumvit has five-star furnishings and is within walking distance of popular bars and restaurants). For something a bit different, head to #FindthePhotoBooth, a speakeasy concealed behind a hidden entrance at the back of an unassuming sports bar.
Elsewhere, the outdoor tables at Hemingway’s Bangkok offer a pleasant open-air experience, with a menu is inspired by the author’s travels through Europe and the Americas. Foodie will enjoy dishes from Thailand’s eastern and northeastern regions at Supanniga Eating Room, and a visit to Khlong Toei Market for fresh and dried produce sourced from farms across the nations (the vast market also sells everything from vintage wares to home furnishings).
Crowd-pleasing eats and cultural treats
Bangkok’s Chinatown is one of the world’s largest, dating back to the late 18th century. Yaowarat Road is its beating heart, coursing through the Bangkok neighbourhood like a dragon. Historic sites here include Wat Traimit, home to the world’s largest solid-gold statue; and Wat Mangkon, Bangkok’s biggest Chinese-Buddhist temple. While it’s known as a foodie haven, not all food here is born equal, so following the crowds can be your best bet. Locals love Tai Seng for its dim sum, Peking duck and steamed seafood, while street food staple Khao Tom Jay Suay is a family-run eatery specialising in smoked duck that opens from the late afternoon until the early hours.
Shanghai Terrace, at the Shanghai Mansion hotel, promises an evening of live music, dancing and drinks from a spacious terrace overlooking Yaowarat Road. Elsewhere in Chinatown, Ba Hao (from the same team behind Never Ending Summer) serves a range of cocktails infused with everything from ginger to five spice.
Business by day, party palace by night
Silom is the centre of the finance industry by day, but after the sun sets its party atmosphere comes to life. Pay a visit to the Neilson Hays Library – a 1920s building that’s home to 20,000 books and frequently hosts exhibitions and events – before spending a quiet afternoon in Lumphini Park, Bangkok’s answer to Central Park. The park’s 57 hectares offer some respite from the hectic city. After working up an appetite, visit 130-year-old landmark House on Sathorn, which houses newly opened dining concept Paii (meaning ‘paddle’ in Thai) for truly spectacular seafood.
Another elevated dining experience (in more ways than one) awaits at Lebua Hotel’s 63rd-floor al fresco Italian restaurant Sirocco, and ascend to Sky Bar for an after dinner drink. Book yourself into W Bangkok for a truly sumptuous stay, but if you still want to continue the night Patpong is a short distance away (as are cocktail bars Maggie Choo’s and Vesper) and the district is also home to the city’s LGBT clubbing district, centring around Silom Soi 2.
Shop till you drop
Home to megamalls Siam Paragon, MBK Centre, Siam Discovery and CentralWorld, Siam is perfectly placed for some retail therapy. Alongside thousands of square feet of high-end and high-street brands, you’ll find cafes, bars and restaurants (for a stylish sundowner, try rooftop offering Red Sky). Elsewhere, Jim Thompson House, the former home of the American designer synonymous with Thai silk, is part museum, part shop and also has a wine bar and restaurant on the grounds.
Head to the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre more artistic inspiration in the form of multimedia exhibitions and events by local and international artists. Siam is also where you’ll find Ban Khun Mae, where classics like tangy tom yum soups to spicy glass noodle salads are served in a cosy space (the name means ‘Mum’s house’). For street food, visit Sawang Bami Kam Pu (Si Phraya). The stall has achieved Michelin bib gourmand status and is famed for its crab claw noodles. Thanks to this Bangkok neighbourhood’s central location, the area is home to a number of luxury hotels, but for a hotel that combines a convenience with the comforts of an urban resort, book a stay at Siam Kempinski Hotel.